Stephen Fry, Religious Nihilism and the Tyrannical God

As everyone knows, Stephen Fry would be angry with a God that openly manages the natural world exactly as it is, red in tooth and claw, and still maintains that It is good and moral. That is basically what Fry said in this interview. Blakodeel of Deal of Theology posts their disagreement here. Blakodeel’s objections are basically twofold: Fry isn’t allowed to have moral opinions because he’s an atheist, and God is infallible because the Book It supposedly wrote says It’s infallible. I reword these two objections to “religious nihilism” and “but God entered a not guilty plea!”

God’s ‘not guilty’ plea is the strangest of the defences. So much value is given to God’s claim of innocence through the Bible that any evidence of pointless suffering, capriciousness, vindictiveness, moral ineptitude or any criticism you can think of is dismissed. The dismissal is not based on evidence and it doesn’t matter what case you bring forward. Blakodeel is happy to define God as innocent. He may as well have left the entire discussion there. The post could be summarised as “I define God as innocent, so your criticism isn’t important”.

The other defence is something I have mentioned a few times. Inspired by Nietzsche’s definition of Christianity as the ultimate nihilism, I refer to “religious nihilism”. We often hear religious people appeal to religious nihilism. This is when people claim that any world view an atheist can possibly have is necessarily a nihilistic one; a view devoid of meaning and value. I call this religious nihilism because it often misses the mark as an accusation towards an atheist, but reveals a lot about the world view of the religious person. They believe that nothing has meaning, except with God. (And the mechanism by which God imbues everything with meaning and value is never explained.)

Below of the comment I left on the post. My comment is “awaiting moderation”, and I noticed there are no other comments (yet – true at time of submitting this post). So I suspect it won’t be approved. But I put time and effort into that comment, so I am posting it here as well, for you all to enjoy or tear apart. The structure is this: Blakodeel broke Fry’s comments into 8 “complaints”, quoted them fully and rebutted them. I assume everyone has seen the video, so I have reduced each complaint to title, briefly summarised Blakodeel’s rebuttal and then explain why I don’t think Blakodeel hit the mark on any of the offered rebuttals. As I’ve only briefly summarised Blakodeel’s rebuttals, I do suggest you read the original post as well.

Okay, so complaint 1.1 – Bone cancer in children.

You open by assuming that atheists have no honest ability to make value claims about the universe. That is nonsense. Fry objects to people being made victims to things and your defence is apparently that God grants Itself the right to do what It wants. Fine, you can keep that tyrannical and capricious definition of God if you want, but you have then forgone the ability to turn around and talk about a loving God. And, to be frank, accusing Kin Jong Un of being tyrannical, even though he has granted such a right on himself, seems perfectly justified. He is a tyrant. I’m glad you, Fry and I are in agreement that God also is a tyrant. (It’s just that Fry and I also think It’s fiction – I just thought I’d add that, if you think I’m arguing Fry is religious…)

When you speak of God’s ‘rights’, you must also talk about other people’s responsibilities. God, apparently, has no responsibilities. And we, as humans, are forced into a position we had no say on; a position where we have the responsibility to get bone cancer and degenerative diseases and all the rest. Except, it’s not a responsibility because it was not discussed with us. Responsibilities must be accepted, else it isn’t real. And rights must be granted. This is how they work. And the violation of those rules of rights and responsibilities are why it is right to call God tyrannical.

Complaint 1.2 – The horror of creation

You attempt to rebut Fry’s horror of creation subpoint by arguing that Adam was set up to fail by an omnipotent being, duly failed (as was inevitable), and then the entire universe and every child and grandchild forever and ever will be punished. Everyone is to be punished for the fact that Adam and Eve were caught out in a patent example of entrapment. Again, we’re looking at horrific management and political systems here. This is like a police officer forcing a person to buy drugs, and when he does the officer sentences the family to death.

And that’s before we get into why the ‘before the fall there was no death’ argument is evidently nonsense. Look at creation: It has teeth and claws and digestive systems and parasites where the life cycle depends on burrowing into eye balls and flesh. Why would dog give a wolf sharp teeth and claws if it’s not going to kill anything? Biology is set up for there to be death. The pre-Fall world you stipulate makes no sense.

Complaint 1.3 – It’s not our fault

You rebut this again with an appeal to what I call religious nihilism. Religious nihilism is the claim that nothing means anything and nothing has value, unless there is a God. There is no inherent, intrinsic or independent value. There is only value dependent on God. (And God had violate that God-given value when It wants, because tyranny…) Let’s be clear about this, God cursed us and you’re arguing it is intelligible to call that our fault. And that’s simply because you are a willing serf to a fictional tyranny.

Complaints 1.4, 1.5 and 1.7

Appeal to religious nihilism, again.

Complaint 1.6 – God is capricious, mean-minded and stupid

You quote the Bible to say that God is unchanging and therefore not unchanging. But the actual narrative of the Bible disagrees with you. God alternates between loving and vindictive, caring and jealous, just and vengeful. That God asserts Its innocence is not nearly as important as the evidence. The evidence you claim–the Bible–would clearly convict God of Capriciousness, even if It did enter a ‘not guilty’ plea.

Complaint 2 – The entry requirements for Heaven are wrong

Another appeal to religious nihilism. But the more interesting appeal is the appeal to “truth”. Unfortunately, “God is truth” simply comes across as a deepity. It has no real meaning, even though it is very impressive-sounding. And even if it did have meaning, it’s another blind assertion. God’s ‘I can’t be wrong, I am truth!’ certainly trumps ‘I’m pretty sure I’m right’, but it’s simple nonsense.

Complaint 3 – The superiority of Classical Gods

You think it speaks volumes of Fry that he would prefer the openly imperfect Classical gods to your Biblical God. I think you miss the point. Fry has more respect for the honest gods who make no bones about being imperfect. and very human in their appetites The world makes sense when we’re openly discussing a capricious self-interested committee of gods. Fry, like me, has some respect for the open sincerity of these beings. (Although, I would have reservations about spending eternity with them.)

Complaint 4 – The madness of a Creator

You argue that God can be selfish without violating any other aspect of defining God. I’m just happy you’re remaining consistent with the tyrannical God. So many religious people would have buckled by now and started talking about love and peace and how because Jesus is God that all that love and peace should be extended to everyone. I’m content to see you at least remain consistent.

I’m also content to notice you don’t defend God against the accusations of being an “utter maniac. Totally selfish”.

Complaint 5 – A lease of thanks?

Your rebuttal is Stockholm syndrome: religious people sincerely and openly offer their worship to God.

You don’t seem to appreciate that thanks is necessarily sincere. That is still what God demands of us. It does demand a lease of sincere thanks. It demands it, instead of earning it.

Complaint 6 – What kind of God?

Fry has stated what is objectionable about the God he describes. You just reject it on the grounds of religious nihilism. Defining God as glorious and deserving of our worship is a nonsense. All accusations of bad behaviour are deflected by God’s own impotent self-definition of innocence? I dismiss that out of hand. I’m not going to consider it further until a defence of such a claim is offered (and Bible quotes don’t cut it).

Complaint 7 – Eye-burrowing parasites are not acceptable

Again, you appeal to the intellectually lazy stance of religious nihilism.

You also seem to be missing the point. As I said at the start, Fry is entertaining a very specific question that was asked of him: what would you say if you got to meet the Christian God? To entertain that, Fry must “violate his own atheism”. Fry is essentially saying ‘Oh, those eye-burrowing parasites were intended by an intelligence (instead of the pitiless indifference of nature and blindness of evolution). You utter bastard.’ And there is nothing intellectually problematic about that stance.

Complaint 8 – If there is a God, what kind of God is It?

You accuse Fry of being an atheist for emotional reasons: “if the God of scripture was true, Mr. Fry would hate him. He does not want God to be true. He would rather live in open rebellion against God.”

I find your misunderstanding of that section quite insincere. What Fry is saying is that, unbound by the strange dogmas that you have espoused here about the nature of God, we would be able to make apt evaluations and judgements on God and It’s behaviour, if we had to. And it has nothing to do with Scripture, either. It’s about nature and the state God is content with nature being in. Atheists are free to actually notice what an horrific brute and egotistical bully would be, if the Abrahamic religions were true.

19 thoughts on “Stephen Fry, Religious Nihilism and the Tyrannical God”

    1. It’s the problem of suffering; it’s ancient. What is really interesting is how it got criticism as if no one has ever heard it before. But I’ll take any excuse to refer “religious nihilism”.

      1. It’s an amazing stance. I’m blown away by what some theists can say with a straight face: God has done no wrong, because that is the definition of God. To say that and mean it is literally incredible.

  1. And this “meaning” that God provides, has anyone a glimmer of it? What is this meaning? It seems to be that if we don’t devote ourselves to slavishly hitting this god’s Like Button, that we will burn in Hell, forever. Is that the meaning they keep talking about?

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